Area athletes bring experience to state meet

The stands packed full of fans and the gathering of high-caliber athletes make the Minnesota state track meet a memorable experience for those who get to be a part of it, but the spectacle creates an atmosphere that can be a bit overwhelming for some first-time participants.

Westbrook-Walnut Grove/Red Rock Central senior Jeff DeCock made his state debut last year, qualifying in all three jumping events. His first year at state was also his first year competing in track and field, and when he got to the big show, he said he was in awe of some of the heights and distances his fellow competitors were posting.

DeCock is one of 13 athletes who will be representing the Marshall area at the Class A state track and field meet Friday and Saturday at Hamline University in St. Paul. Of those 13, nine are making a return trip. DeCock anticipates that the knowledge gained from his previous appearance at state will make a big difference for him this time around.

“I know the competition now. I know that it’s a totally different level, and this year I’ll be ready for it,” DeCock said. “Last year going in it was great to be there and everything, but this year I’m looking to compete more than last year and finish higher towards the top.”

DeCock didn’t finish above 12th in any of his events last year. This year he’s among the favorites in all three of his events. His qualifying mark of 43 feet, 9 inches in the triple jump is tied for best in the event, and his mark of 6-3 in the high jump is tied for second best. He is also seeded sixth in the long jump at 21-4.

The basketball standout who will play collegiately at Iowa Lakes Community College split his time between baseball and track and field last year. A shoulder injury prevented him from getting on the diamond this year, but also left him more time to concentrate on his jumping.

At the top of his game heading into state, DeCock is eyeing a spot at the top of the podium.

“I’m definitely hopeful,” he said. “Going in you might as well have your head high and think you’re going to win, so that’s my goal I guess.”

Jack Thony joins DeCock as another area athlete who will be competing in three events at state. The Murray County Central senior is making his third straight appearance at Hamline and will take part in each of the three sprinting events. He’s seeded in the top seven in each event, and his qualifying time of 22.44 seconds in the 200-meter dash is the second best in the event. His top finish at state last year was fourth place in the 100 dash.

Thony is one of three MCC Rebels going to St. Paul. Tanner Nepp, a senior thrower, is heading back after taking third in the discus and sixth in the shot put last year. His qualifying throw of 52-2.75 in the shot put has him seeded second in the competition.

Tyler Scotting will also be representing the Rebels, though he is a first-time qualifier. Scotting made state in the 300 hurdles and is the seventh seed in the event.

Canby/Minneota/Lincoln HI’s Nick Stoks will be wrapping up a stellar high school career as a Lancer this weekend when he makes his third appearance at state. The decorated cross country runner has grown accustomed to the scene in St. Paul but said emotions are always amplified at Hamline.

“You know, it’s state, you’re going to be nervous every time you go there,” he said. “But confidence depends on how you’re feeling with your body. I’m more relaxed in that I know how to get my body ready for it and not get so nervous to the point where I freeze up.”

Stoks will be competing in both the 1,600 and 3,200 runs. After concluding successful careers in both cross country and wrestling, Stoks is hoping to cap off his time as a high school competitor on a high note.

“I had a lot of expectations for my senior year and I’ve done some and haven’t done some, that’s just how it goes, but I really want a medal up at state here,” he said. “I did it a couple of times in cross country and that’s always been my favorite sport anyways, but I would really like to get on the podium in one event or the other, and heck, maybe if I run good like I’m feeling, maybe I’ll do it in both.”

Other area athletes taking part in the Class A boys’ state meet are a pair of Yellow Medicine East Sting. Jacob Pederson made it to Hamline last year in the 200 dash, but this year he’ll be taking part in the 400. YME teammate Trevon Cox will be making his first appearance at state as a senior, competing in the discus.

On the girls’ side, Tracy-Milroy-Balaton’s Kendra Ludeman is one of the few area athletes who will be making her first trip to state. She had fewer opportunities to get there than most, as she’s just an eighth-grader this year.

At the Section 3A meet, Ludeman qualified for state in the high jump by surpassing her previous best mark by three inches. Her qualifying height of 5-3 is just one inch below the top seed in the event, although eight other girls have the same mark as her.

As the youngest competitor in the event, Ludeman admitted that the butterflies have begun to appear as the weekend draws near.

“I was pretty relaxed at practice and everything until today (Wednesday) when it hit me that I’m leaving tomorrow and so I’ve been pretty nervous,” she said.

When people have gone to Ludeman to give her advice, she said they’ve told her to just have fun since it’s only her first year. But she knows it’s a tightly-bunched field in the high jump and feels she has a good chance to do well.

“I’m just hoping to get in the top half,” Ludeman said. “I want to try to do better than I did at sections but I just don’t know what’s going to happen. I just hope to do the best that I can and feel happy with myself when I’m done.”

Russell-Tyler-Ruthton’s Jada Carr was in a similar position as Ludeman a year ago when she was making her first trip to state. She ended up handling herself quite well, placing fourth in the triple jump.

Now a junior, Carr is a favorite in both the long jump and the triple jump. She’s the top seed in the long jump with a qualifying mark of 17-8.5, and is also one of three leapers in the triple jump who had qualifying marks above 36 feet.

While her marks make her one of the top contenders in both her competitions, Carr said she knows she can’t let her high seeds get to her head.

“You know, last year I was seeded 11th and I took fourth overall, so as much as it flatters me that I’m the number one seed in long jump, I know that anything can happen,” she said. “It’s cool that I’m seeded that, but I’m going to go into it like I do any other meet and see what happens.”

A pair of Lac qui Parle Valley/Dawson-Boyd girls will, like Carr, be making their second appearance at state. Jacinta Roggenbuck made it in the 200 dash last year as a sophomore, though she wasn’t able to make it through to the finals. This year she’ll be in both the 200 and the 400. Teammate Alaysia Freetly will join her at Hamline, competing in the 1,600 run. Last year as a freshman she placed 14th in the event.

The two remaining area athletes going to St. Paul are Canby/Minneota/Lincoln HI junior Morgan Merritt and WWG/RRC senior Chloe Arfsten. Arfsten will be competing in the pole vault for the second straight year, while Merritt will be stepping foot on the track at Hamline for the first time when she competes in the 100 hurdles.